Thursday, December 8, 2005

....a memorable and poignant sentence

A few weeks ago, my wife announced that she had begun working on a novelization of one of her screenplays; the topic came up when we were at my parent’s house for dinner. According to the general rules of screenwriting, one page of screenplay equals one minute of filming. Because screenplays are seldom over one hundred twenty pages and the typical novel is about four hundred pages; I asked how her writing was coming along. She responded by saying she had spent the morning reading.  She said that she used the time to sample the first sentence or paragraph in books of a number of writers that she admired.  This immediately launched a conversation about the importance of writing an attention getting, profound or witty first line.  And one of the first opening sentences from a novel we all deferred to was:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the age of despair, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
- Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

While Dickens’s first line is close to a paragraph, I found that by sampling some of the books in my office that length isn’t the determining factor for a memorable and poignant sentence.  The following is a random selection from authors and numerous topics: fiction, nonfiction, classics, contemporary, business, theology, self-help, etc. Some lines have been lifted from other sources and some may be a bit misleading because of their extraction from the introductory paragraphs, while others clearly stand on their own merits. The quotes are limited to the first sentence and no more.  Feel free to add your own quotes in the comments.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
- Joan Didion, The White Album

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
- George Orwell, 1984

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“How do you tell the story of your life—of how you were born, and the world you were born into, and the world that was born in you?”
- Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

“Life is difficult”
- M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

“When you go to confession on Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with the smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of a great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness.”
- Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

“On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.”
- Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“Wonder is the gateway to knowledge.”
- Sankara Saranam, God without Religion

- Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story

“My life is a mess.”
- Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

“Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?”
- Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins

“When millions of people will go anywhere, bear any burden, and pay any cover price to ‘feel good about myself,’ you know that the unconquerable worm is doing his thing in the Republic of Nice.”
- Florence King, With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

“My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about who you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion.”
- Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev

“Twenty years ago at a conference I attended of theologians and professors of religion, an Indian Christian friend told the assembly, “We are going to hear about the beauties of several traditions, but that does not mean that we are going to make a fruit salad.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Budda, Living Christ

“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid.”
- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

“Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern.”
- Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

“Even in the flattest landscape there are passes where the road first climbs to a peak and then descends into a new valley.”
- Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities

“The impression forces itself upon one that men measure by false standards, that everyone seeks power, success, riches for himself and admires others who attain them, while undervaluing the truly precious things in life.”
- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

“No matter that men in their hundreds of thousands disfigured the land on which they swarmed, paved the ground with stones so that no green thing could grow, filled the air with the fumes of coal and gas, lopped back all the trees, and drove away every animal and every bird: spring was still spring, even in the town.”
- Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection

“Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it’s time to take it back.”
- Jim Wallis, God’s Politics

“This book is about the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others.”
- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

“I used to think that young Americans began whatever education they were to get at the age of eighteen, that their early lives were spiritually empty and that they arrived at the university clean slates unaware of their deeper selves and the world beyond their superficial experience.”
- Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

“There are seething energies of spirituality in evidence everywhere.”
- Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

“All this happened, more or less.”
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse - Five

“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.”
- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell.”
- Cynthia Ozick, The Shawl

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
- Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

“All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.”
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenin

Sunday, November 27, 2005

....we mark our lives by their passing

Last night I was following a number of blog posts that were remembering Scott Peck, who died September 25, 2005. Annie Gottlieb commented, “The death of a public figure can be a body blow when it's someone who has directly affected your life.” In as much as the media has become our common experience, it is not surprising that when well known people die, in a real way, we mark our lives by their passing. About Peter Jennings, who died August 7, 2005, Julie Jensen reflected, “It is funny to feel impacted by this event -- someone I never met, but I have been thinking about it all day. I think it is because of the constants of my growing up is gone…. I always knew that when we turned on the news he would be there.”

In contrast, unless we have a loved one or family member who is in Iraq, the reported deaths seem somewhat removed or abstract. Death is abstract until we are faced with it. CNN reported October 26, 2005: “The U.S. military death toll in Iraq reached 2,000 Tuesday with the reports of three new deaths…” Updated: 4:26 p.m. ET Nov. 24, 2005: “At least 2,104 U.S. military personnel have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is four lower than the Defense Department’s tally, which was last updated at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.” The worldwide update of reported civilian deaths in the Iraq war and occupation: Reported Minimum 27115, Reported Maximum 30559.

I don’t want to start a trend on this blog by memorializing celebrities and famous people, but among the many who have passed away this year are Johnny Carson (TV host), Ossie Davis (actor/writer/activist), Keith Knudsen (drummer), Arthur Miller (playwright), Sandra Dee (actress), Hunter S. Thompson (writer), John DeLorean (entrepreneur), Andre Norton (writer), Johnnie Cochran (lawyer), Pope John Paul II (Leader of the Roman Catholic Church), Frank Gorshin (mimic/actor), Eddie Albert (actor), Anne Bancroft (actress), Luther Vandross (singer), Peter Jennings (TV news anchor), Bob Denver (Little Buddy), M. Scott Peck (writer/psychiatrist), Don Adams (actor), Nipsey Russell (comedian), Rosa Parks (long-time civil rights activist), and Peter Drucker (writer/management theorist).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

But what really shook me up....

This morning I woke up during a 2.7 magnitude microearthquake. According to the reports the epicenter was 2 miles NW of Santa Rosa and 7 miles from our house in Sebastopol. I wasn’t really sure why I woke up so early until I turned the radio on while making coffee in the kitchen.

But what really shook me up was hearing that Peter Drucker had passed away Friday, November 11, 2005. Drucker is survived by his wife, Doris, and four children. He was 95.

Even though I never sat in one of his classrooms I still consider him as one of my most respected teachers. Over the years I have read many articles and a number of books by Peter Drucker: The New Realities, Post-Capitalist Society, The Effective Executive and Managing for the Future. I admired his brilliance and that he placed the role of empowerment at the center of his work as an academic and leader. “At the heart of everything I have done has been the thought of enabling others, getting the roadblocks out of the way, out of their thinking and their systems, to enable them to become all that they can be.”

My first exposure to Drucker’s prophetic thinking was when I read his book New Realities in 1989. One of the most profound things in this book was the fact that he predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and the eventual coup. Two years after the publishing of this book tensions in the Soviet Union came to a head and in August 1991 a group of right wing military and KGB leaders staged a coup in Moscow. On Christmas Day of 1991, in the aftermath of the failed coup, the Soviet Union officially ended its own existence, marking the end of over 70 years of repression and 45 years of Soviet-American conflict.

Although he is said to have coined the term "knowledge worker" long before the information age was a cliché, Drucker did not consider himself a prophet; he was “just” reading the times. From an article in Inc. Magazine, Newt Gingrich is quoted as saying, “Drucker, like Adam Smith, is essentially a philosopher of reality. He looks at what is really happening in the market in economic, historical, and political terms, and then he makes sense of it all. Drucker's work is about far more than management or the production of wealth. It is about the process by which people lead productive and useful lives and produce greater opportunities and greater resources for themselves and their fellow man. Some of his ideas are timeless and will likely be as useful 200 years from now as Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations is today.”

Some other books that I have read along the same lines are Alvin Toffler’s, Future Shock, Max Dublin’s, Futurehype and a collection of essays edited by Albert Teich, Technology and the Future.

Of course, Peter Drucker has long been called a business-guru, he was widely thought of as a management visionary for his recognition that devoted employees are the secret to the success of any corporation, and that concern for “marketing and innovation” should come before worries about finances.

We often use the terms leadership and management interchangeably, they are distinctly different yet complementary in their approaches to action. In fact it is difficult to have one without the other, although a good manager will probably have more success than a leader without management skills. Without management organizations cannot function long in the chaos of disorganization. In the same respect, because of the changing paradigms in business and society in general, without leaders organizations will fail to grow with the times. “We have learned to innovate because we cannot expect the accumulated competence, skill, knowledge, product, services, and structure of the present will be adequate for long” (Drucker, 339).

In Drucker’s later writings he showed great concern for non-profits. He was not only an innovative thinker; he was also a man of faith. His concerns for society and how organizations should act certainly reflected this. Max De Pree said, "Over the years, Peter has proven to me that his humanity matches his intellect. Peter's concern for me as a person, his leadership, and his guidance have been among my life's greatest blessings." The Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation has been given annually since 1991.

Peter F. Drucker Memorial Service Announced:
In Memory of Peter Drucker, Saturday, December 10, 2005
The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University cordially invites you to a memorial service honoring the life of Peter Drucker on Saturday, December 10th at 3 p.m. at Little Bridges Auditorium (150 East 4th Street in Claremont). An informal reception will follow at 4 p.m. at which time attendees may capture their memories of Peter Drucker on video as part of the legacy project for the Drucker Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Research Library and Archive).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

all that geometry....

About five years ago, my daughter and I took the Tube to Paris from London. The anticipation of the day was a Total Solar Eclipse, so while we were traveling on the train many of the passengers were looking through special glasses or in our case we had poked a hole through a piece of paper to view the event. It was only later that I learned how unique this experience was; there will only be 18 solar eclipses from 1996-2020 for which the eclipse will be total on some part of the Earth's surface.

“The common perception that eclipses are infrequent is because the observation of a total eclipse from a given point on the surface of the Earth is not a common occurrence. For example, it will be two decades before the next total solar eclipse visible in North America occurs.”

In spite of the excitement, I found myself grateful for the harvest. Looking out the train window we past numerous fields with round hay bales by the hundreds geometrically spaced. All those curves but I just saw rows and right angles. Peaceful proportion and a much-needed equilibrium, all that geometry had a calming effect.

A friend of mine said, “Geometry does comfort, as you suggest, even as a lack of order frightens…. There's an optimal way to harvest, which results in curled up stacks of hay equally dispersed over a large field. All of that wild Life neatly brought to heel. We're under no threat, and consider the wonder of it beautiful.”

A while back I was wading through Albert Einstein’s, Relativity: The Special and General Theory and had found it to be surprisingly readable…

“Geometry sets out from certain conceptions such as ‘plane,’ ‘point,’ and ‘straight line,’ with which we are able to associate more or less definite ideas, and from certain simple propositions (axioms) which, in virtue of these ideas, we are inclined to accept as "true." Then, on the basis of a logical process, the justification of which we feel ourselves compelled to admit, all remaining propositions are shown to follow from those axioms, i.e. they are proven. A proposition is then correct (‘true’) when it has been derived in the recognized manner from the axioms. The question of ‘truth’ of the individual geometrical propositions is thus reduced to one of the "truth" of the axioms.”

“The concept "true" does not tally with the assertions of pure geometry, because by the word "true" we are eventually in the habit of designating always the correspondence with a ‘real’ object; geometry, however, is not concerned with the relation of the ideas involved in it to objects of experience, but only with the logical connection of these ideas among themselves.”

Einstein later illustrates this by description, “I stand at the window of a railway carriage which is traveling uniformly, and drop a stone on the embankment, without throwing it. Then, disregarding the influence of the air resistance, I see the stone descend in a straight line. A pedestrian who observes the misdeed from the footpath notices that the stone falls to earth in a parabolic curve. I now ask: Do the ‘positions’ traversed by the stone lie ‘in reality’ on a straight line or on a parabola?”

Similar to the consideration of the importance of position when viewing a solar eclipse, and like the illustration of the straight line or the parabolic curve, we tend to see what we look for, we reduce truth so it is manageable and our understanding is constrained to those axioms we believe. People often fail to grasp the influence or resistance of speed and motion inherent to living. Most of us don’t like change and we tend to resist “life’s wiggles” for the calming safety of order and predictability.

Einstein’s definition of geometry and his illustration seem to connect with my friend’s reference to Alan Watts. In the book Tao: The Watercourse Way, he says, “Geometrization always reduces natural form to something less than itself, oversimplification and rigidity which screens out the dancing curvaceousness of nature. It seems that rigid people feel some basic disgust with wiggles; they cannot dance without seeing a diagram of steps, and feel that swinging the hips is obscene. They want to ‘get things straight,’ that is, in linear order…”

Wendell Berry says, “For quite a while it has been possible for a free and thoughtful person to see that to treat life as mechanical or predictable or understandable is to reduce it. Now, almost suddenly, it is becoming clear that to reduce life to the scope of our understanding (whatever ‘model’ we use) is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it, and put it up for sale. This is to give up on life, to carry it beyond change and redemption, and to increase the proximity of despair…. One of our problems is that we humans cannot live without acting; we have to act. Moreover, we have to act on the basis of what we know is incomplete. What we have come to know so far is demonstrably incomplete, since we keep on learning more, and there seems little reason to think that our knowledge will become significantly more complete. The mystery surrounding our life probably is not significantly reducible. And so the question of how to act in ignorance is paramount.”

In short Berry says, “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”

Annie Dillard expresses a similar outlook in her observations of creation in the book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “Our life is a faint tracing of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

Sunday, November 13, 2005

breaking through....

In a recent essay by Wendell Berry, he describes himself as “an unconfident reader” of the Gospels. He says, “Anybody half awake these days will be aware that there are many Christians who are exceedingly confident in their understanding of the Gospels, and who are exceedingly self-confident in their understanding of themselves in their faith. They appear to know precisely the purposes of God, and they appear to be perfectly assured that they are now doing, and in every circumstance will continue to do, precisely God's will as it applies specifically to themselves.”

In contrast Berry says, “I am by principle and often spontaneously, as if by nature, a man of faith. But my reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands.”

About a month ago a long time friend and I were doing some catching up on the phone. I was telling him how much I was enjoying the Gospels course that I was taking, when he told me that he had been reading the Gospel of Mark. He said that he was trying to read the text with a new perspective or in a fresh way. His comments about how the evangelist Mark presents Jesus have stuck with me. This Gospel does not present Jesus as being “gentle,” an image that characterizes much of the evangelical thought about Jesus. Rather, Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God“ and “Son of Man” who’s Kingdom breaks through with authority and power.

My professor points out that Mark frames his Gospel with the idea that God’s Kingdom is “breaking through.” She explains that the first time we hear this is at Jesus’ baptism, when John sees the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” The word used for parting the heavens is the same word used at the end of the Passion when in the Temple, the curtain is torn in the Holy of Holies. I have always considered this as a symbol of our access to God, when in fact it is another picture of God’s rule or Kingdom “breaking through.”

During the phone conversation my friend commented about the authority in which Jesus acted. I made a few comments about Jesus’ authority to teach, how he exercised his authority over evil spirits, healing the sick, silencing demons, rebuking the Pharisees and calming the wind and sea. My friend said that was not what he meant. He was talking about how Jesus used his authority and that it cost him his life. In a similar way we have seen people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa who have used their authority to save others.

N.T. Wright tells a story about a ship disaster in which a tour boat began to sink and the passengers were screaming frantically. “Suddenly one man - not a member of the crew - took charge. In a clear voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realized someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge: holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed – the authority by which many had been saved” (11).

Berry exclaims, “The Gospels, then, stand at the opening of a mystery in which our lives are deeply, dangerously and inescapably involved. This is a mystery that the Gospels can only partially reveal, for it could be fully revealed only by more books than the world could contain. It is a mystery that we are condemned but also are highly privileged to live our way into, trusting properly that to our little knowledge greater knowledge may be revealed. It is this privilege that should make us wary of any attempt to reduce faith to a rigmarole of judgments and explanations, or to any sort of familiar talk about God. Reductive religion is just as objectionable as reductive science, and for the same reason: Reality is large, and our minds are small.”

Thursday, October 27, 2005

....towards peace

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq the main intersection of our town has been a place for protest. Often, there are "Women in Black" waving black flags and signs that say, "No War" on one corner, while on the other side of the street people are waving American flags with signs saying "Support Our Troops."

Usually I drive through and honk at whoever I know on either side of the street, but last night I slowed down because there was a candlelight peace vigil taking place on both sides of Main Street. The beauty of the lights moved me to consider and appreciate the efforts of all those who were out that night. I was encouraged by their presence and my thoughts were drawn towards peace.

Today my company had the opportunity to photograph a beautiful painting. The portrait was painted by one of over fifty well-respected artists, representing more than 21 countries in a multi-media art exhibition, The Missing Peace: The Dalai Lama Portrait Project. With the Dalai Lama's life as its inspiration, the purpose of the collaborative effort is to turn the world's attention towards peace.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

That prophetic vision....

My daughter is visiting from Minneapolis where she has been working as an intern and now has been asked to be on staff with an intercity outreach called SOURCE. One evening I knocked on her bedroom door to see if she was awake; I found her reading an old book of mine, Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger. I was surprised mostly because I had recently commented to a friend about the experience of reading the same book almost twenty years ago.The subject came up because I was reading Ronald Sider’s latest book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? I had exclaimed that the last time I had read one of Sider’s books I woke up in a cold sweat and in tears.

Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger, echoed the voice of the prophets, called believers to the age old message, before consumer Christendom and the prosperity teachings of Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland, the positive thinking of Norman Vincent Peale or Dr. Schuller’s, Hour of Power, before mega churches, that fishy symbol or tee-shirts and bumper stickers that told people that you were a Christian, “Not Perfect, but forgiven” or “God’s not through with me yet.” When gospel was more than “sin management” and “pearly gates,” before Gallop polls shouted hypocrisy! The gospel was to be lived out daily and we were called to serve those who are less auspicious…

In a real sense our concerns about the poor are revealed in how we spend our money. Jim Wallis says, “That prophetic vision reminds us that budgets are moral documents, revealing our true priorities, and must be judged morally, not just economically.”

In Leonard Sweet’s book, Soul Salsa I was reminded of the mistake of separating the issues of overpopulation and consumption. He points out that Americans seem to be conscious of the issue of overpopulation and are having fewer children, but that the average consumption of resources used to raise one child in the USA could provide for as many as twenty children in less affluent countries. That would translate into providing for forty children in comparison to the two children my wife and I have raised. Families with five children would be equal to one hundred and so forth.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The reason for doing something....

I am about a month into the 2005 fall quarter at Fuller Theological Seminary. I am currently taking two courses through the Distance Learning program in hope that this will be the beginning of my studies toward a Master of Divinity degree.

A number of those whom I have told about my academic plans have been puzzled as to why I would be doing this at this time in my life. The common questions have been, “Are you going to be a pastor?" “Do you want to have a church?” “Will you be selling your business?” Not surprisingly, living in the Wine Country of Sonoma, some people have asked, “Does that mean you won’t be able to drink alcohol?” I would say that these people probably don’t know me to well because I quit my “love affair” with drinking almost four years ago. Those closest to me, my family, friends and I hope those whom I work with on a daily basis have seen transformation or change since I reconnected with my faith.

Initially when I was asked questions like these I was uncomfortable. I was not then and I am not now completely convinced of my intentions for pursuing this path. I appreciate the statement Malcolm Muggeridge makes in the introduction of his book A Third Testament, “It often happens that the reason for doing something only emerges clearly after it has been done, conscious intent and all the various practicalities which go therewith being but the tip of an iceberg of unconscious intent. In any case, as has often been pointed out, time itself is a continuum, and not divisible into past, present and future tenses” (1).

A few years ago a close friend gave me a book by Tom Chappell, founder/CEO of the successful company, Tom's of Maine. In his book, Managing Upside Down: The Seven Intentions of Values-Centered Leadership, Chappell tells the story of how he and his wife considered selling their company. Tom even stepped back from his role as CEO and enrolled in Harvard’s School of Theology with the goal of gaining a Master of Divinity degree. Ironically the very thing that Tom thought would lead him away from his involvement in business was the thing which became the catalyst for his reentry into business.

I think at some level, the completion of this academic goal and my hope of anticipated growth as a follower of Christ will provide or lead me to a better understanding of my reasons for beginning this undertaking. On the other hand the more I have heard myself respond to the question about being a pastor with an affirmative yes, the more I can see myself in this sense. I think the implication of all this is that I am uncomfortable with predicting the outcome of my decisions. My experience is that things never happen exactly the way I first plan; it is usually during the process that I begin to refine and grasp the vision.

(1) Reprinted from Copyright © 2004 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

....a sage and a mentor

Eugene Peterson is probably best known for his modern translation of the Bible, The Message. Bono (U2) was asked about his favorite reading materials: "...there's a translation of Scriptures -- the New Testament and the Books of Wisdom -- that this guy Eugene Peterson has undertaken. It has been a great strength to me. He's a poet and a scholar, and he's brought the text back to the tone in which the books were written."

I have been reading a series of pastoral books Peterson has written. His book, The Contemplative Pastor is full of insights. He says that busyness is a hindrance for pastoral ministry... and that the calendar is always given ultimate authority... busyness can also be an ego driven impulse, because if we are busy we are important...

In a recent interview with Peterson, he was ask if spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God. He says this is a naïve idea…”This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency”.

When asked about evangelicals telling people they can have a "personal relationship with God" and this suggesting a certain type of spiritual intimacy, he responded,

“All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.”

“I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love. It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.”

I love this man, he is a sage and a mentor. I am also reading his latest offering, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Generous Orthodoxy....

In Brian McLaren's book a Generous Orthodoxy, he "seeks to see members of other religions and non-religions not as enemies but as beloved neighbors and whenever possible, as dialogue partners and even collaborators"(35). He does not advocate syncretism but hopes to honor the beliefs of others while celebrating truth.

A few months ago I read Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Budda, Living Christ and found the book to be a great encouragement to my faith. I had been discussing "spirituality" with another friend and I appreciated his willingness to share some about his own spiritual journey. Our discussion about Buddhist philosophy sparked my interest to investigate beyond my limited experience and reading in comparative religious studies.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "For dialogue to be fruitful, we need to live deeply our own tradition and, at the same time, listen deeply to others. Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others tradition" (7).

"If we think that we monopolize the truth and we still organize a dialogue, it is not authentic. We have to believe that by engaging in dialogue with the other person, we have the possibility of making a change within ourselves, that we can become deeper.... We have to allow what is good, beautiful, and meaningful in the other's tradition to transform us" (9).

It was in the lives and dialogue with Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan and others that Thich Nhat Hanh saw some of what's "beautiful and meaningful" in the teachings of Christ. These teachings are living and transforming for those who embrace them and are empowered to do so by the Spirit. Thomas Merton is often spoken of as one of the most prominent Christian contemplatives of the twentieth century. He considered Thich Nhat Hanh as his spiritual brother. I have learned much from Merton and thought I would provide some quotes from his writings too.

In a book called, Seeds it says, "At the heart of Merton's spirituality is his distinction between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self, ignores the real one, and therein lies the great irony of human existence: The more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist."

Merton says, "Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy" (NS, 34).

Friday, October 7, 2005

Uncover what is covered up....

Five months ago today, I was on the internet reviewing the educational options of seminaries across the country. Should I get an M. Div., or MA? Should I consider a pastoral or missions concentration and can I even get through a masters degree program? Can I learn Hebrew or Greek? Am I to old? How will I pay for it? Do I need more education? Will it lead to a new beginning? Eugene Peterson says, “Pastors are the persons in the church communities who repeat and insist on the kingdom realities against the world appearances, and who therefore must be apocalyptic.” Can I stand resolute in my own convictions? Can I communicate with “crimson urgency and purple crisis” a clear message of hope to others? Am I living in the Spirit? Am I being an example of this blessed life? I want to pastor and love people, but am I doing it now? All these self-doubts loom over me.

I was trying to envision where my wife and my lives might fit into God’s plan for ministry in the church, missions or the work place? I shared some thoughts with my wife. I told her I did not want to have the job description of a modern day pastor: “Someone who runs a church.” I have managed a couple of businesses now and my guess is that running a church would be even more frustrating. What I really want is to uncover what is covered up, “repeat and insist on the kingdom realities!” I want to be a greater man of prayer and make the time for reflection and study. I want to put self-importance behind me and make time for people. I want to listen and love people into the presence of God.

With the intention of being encouraging, she suggested that I can be doing these things now, and my inner critic said, “Yes… she’s right… you don’t do these things enough now, so how will you do them in the future. You are naive and foolish to think you could serve God and people. You just want to feel important, intelligent, enlightened! You really don’t like people, you can’t relate. Why didn’t you avoid that argument at work or with your partners for that matter? How much have you prayed and studied this week? What is your stance on salvation anyway? Would a God of love be so ambiguous? You are delusional and a failure! What do you have to offer?”

I left the room agreeing with my wife’s comment but secretly feeling overwhelmed with these self-doubts. It was then that I realized or possibly that God pulled the veil from my eyes and I saw that these accusations were malicious! They want to steal the gifts that the Father has given me! I am his offspring and his Spirit abides with me! God has given me all things with his Son. God displays his glory in my weakness if I rely on him. Through inner logic I know these things to be true. The Lord has brought me to this place of new decision. Listen to what the Spirit is saying… “I have put this desire in you. You are my child. You are a new creature. This is a reality, not just self-talk! I want you to uncover what is covered up, you are a light! The Spirit of God lives in you!”

How often do we let these accusations douse the fire that God has ignited in our souls. The apocalyptic pastor says, “But you belong. The Holy One anointed you, and you all know it. I haven't been writing this to tell you something you don't know, but to confirm the truth you do know, and to remind you that the truth doesn't breed lies” (1 John. 2:21).

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Sabbath Keeping....

My sister and I were recently talking about our lives and how it is important to make time for ourselves in spite of the continuing demands of work. The conversation reminded me of Israel being slaves in Egypt. One of the reasons God commanded the Sabbath was because slavery dehumanizes people. It treats them like machines or objects. People need rest, community and healthy relationships to feel human. We also need the downtime to reflect and consider our fortunate state. Eugene Peterson says that the Sabbath day of rest provides a needed rhythm for our lives. We work and rest, work and rest, work and rest… Without the rhythm we suffer anxiety and exhaustion.

We must pause from our work in order to consider our need for God. Overworking squeezes out any sense of praise and gratefulness to God, because after all we are more than competent to do the tasks required of us. That is what working is all about: my expertise, my abilities, my being self sufficient and up for the task. It is this confidence or competency in ourselves that causes us to ignore our need for God. The Sabbath repose can be a time of humility, refreshment, prayer, and fun.

The Sabbath day is for “praying and playing.” All work and no play can make us unhappy, unbalanced, unappreciated, and unappreciative of all that we have been given. Family, friends (if you have time for friends) good books (for me), dinning out with persons you love, taking in a movie, doing something just for the fun of it (even with our kids). Alternating between work and refreshment provides a certain rhythm that allows us to enjoy ourselves.

If we make time for ourselves and family, work and other responsibilities will not suffer. On the contrary, they will benefit from it! We will be better people (more human) having had the time to rest, reflect, pray and interact with others for the sake of just being with them. God is more recognizable in all we do when we realize it is not all up to us.